Let him play: The conviction rate in rape cases is a national disgrace. But that does not vindicate the campaign against Ched Evans

 

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The Independent Online

Ched Evans is a convicted rapist. Unless his appeal is successful, the chances are that he will be known as such for the rest of his life.

His career will never properly recover, nor his reputation, even if his conviction is overturned. All that is a matter of fact.

But what is Evans entitled to in terms of justice? “Nothing” seems to be the popular answer to that, and it is wrong. There is an appeal. If that is successful, and the conviction is thrown out, then he should be treated as an innocent man, just as we would all expect to be if we had been wrongly convicted. It may not be realistic to expect him to return to his old club in his old role as if nothing had happened, but that is what the spirit of the law demands.

More difficult is what we should make of Evans if his appeal fails. The spirit of the law, the spirit of rehabilitation, demands that he be treated on the same basis as any other offender who has served their time for a crime, even if they refuse to take full responsibility for it (and Evans has lacked sufficient respect for the woman in this case, to put it mildly, while some of his online supporters have behaved with appalling cruelty in revealing a succession of protected new identities).

Yet Evans did not create the criminal justice system, nor specify the tariff he was given, nor set his own release date. It is painfully obvious that rape victims are often denied justice, and, even if their attackers are found, tried and sentenced, they can suffer all over again in the courtroom. Sentences can still be too lenient, and the police and lawyers too insensitive. It is a serious crime, and deserves to be treated as such. But none of those are things that Evans can do very much about. Rapists are, rightly, debarred from certain occupations, such as medicine and teaching: does being a professional footballer fall into such a category? Plainly not. Are they role models? Plainly so, or at least the better ones are.

Anyone who watches a school football game can spot the copycat behaviour – spitting, violently arguing with referees and the rest of the depressing behaviour displayed by boorish football players. Sensible companies pay footballers and their wives millions to promote their products, presumably on the sound commercial basis that they add to sales among the impressionable. Some create “brands” of their own. Yet we are unlikely to see a Ched Evans aftershave launched soon. Evans is unlikely to prove a role model, given what has happened. He is highly likely to be booed and taunted by opposing, and possibly home, fans.

Evans is entitled to make a living in that way if he has discharged his debt to society – although perhaps not while he is still under licence or while his appeal is still pending. By the same token, Oldham Athletic are entitled to employ him. Many, including his former club, Sheffield United, would not, because of the reputational damage they would suffer, or for other reasons, and they are entitled to make that judgement.

Oldham had tried to make a reality of the notion of redemption and rehabilitation, and the idea of discharging a debt to society. They have now backed off in the face of graphic online threats. But it is the courts and Parliament, not social media, who make our laws, whatever our own moral judgements may be.